Rituals and Special Needs Kids: Stability in a Chaotic World

Last updated on October 1st, 2014 at 09:58 am

mom reads book  to daughter in bedOne night as I flopped down next my daughter in her bed, I kissed her and said goodnight.  She wished me a goodnight back. There was a moment of silence during which I mentally listed all the household chores I still had waiting for me in the other room. Her sleepy voice interrupted my list. “You didn’t say it,” she objected.

“Say what?” I was totally confused. I had just said goodnight, what more did she want from me?

“You know…” she was waiting for a response. It took me a moment, but then I realized what she meant.

“Sweet dreams,” I said softly. She mumbled her wish for sweet dreams for me against her pillow. “I love you,” I concluded. She murmured that she loved me too, and I felt her body relax. We had completed the ritual, one that I had completely failed to realize we had adopted. But to her, this little exchange of phrases each night signaled to her brain that the day was over and that she could let go of all the tensions from the day.

We hear a lot about how important rituals are for very young children and also for special needs kids, and it makes sense. In a world that may feel like it is swirling out of their control, there are a few things they can count on. When those things happen predictably it makes them feel safe and they can relax. For those of us who lack this need for rituals it might help to put yourself in this scenario: You are driving home one day, running late and expecting the cable guy. You anticipate seeing the usual landmarks  – the gas station, the bank where you almost unconsciously make your turn – but suddenly you realize that somehow you are on the wrong road! Sure, there’s a gas station but it’s not your gas station. Nothing is familiar. You are lost!

Scary, right? Now imagine that you are driving home, but this time you are on the correct road. You see that gas station and it makes you smile a bit internally. Then you see that familiar bank, and you ease into your turn. Ahhhhhh….

Certainly this is an exaggeration, but I hope it helps you to empathize with little ones and bigger ones with special needs who treasure these guideposts. I am trying to put aside my lists and my chores and see how else I can help my child feel comfortable in her world. Well, maybe after folding this last load of laundry…

About the Author

Rosie Reeves is a writer and mother of three; including one with special needs. She works side-by-side with her daughter’s therapists, teachers and doctors. Rosie has also served as the Los Angeles Special Needs Kids Examiner and serves as a contributor on the Yahoo! Contributor Network. She can be reached at rosie327@aol.com.Rosie is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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